The Corcoran Gallery of Art’s absorption into George Washington University (GWU) and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, first announced in February, has been finalized, the Washington Post reported yesterday. The deal will see the Corcoran’s art school operated by GWU, while the National Gallery will receive curatorial staff and the majority of the 145-year-old institution’s art collection. Some 180 adjunct faculty members will not be “promised” positions, while 30–40 full-time employees — gallery and college staff — will be jobless under the new arrangement. The deal will be funded by $48 million from the Corcoran’s endowment and proceeds from “a previous sale of precious rugs.”
The deal came about due to longstanding financial troubles at the Corcoran, which was founded by financier William W. Corcoran in 1869. (The art school was founded in 1890.) Corcoran trustees voted unanimously to approve the three-way merger, though the deal has yet to be approved by the D.C. Superior Court under a provision affecting the nonprofit status of organizations undergoing significant structural changes. “We’re not just talking about a stable environment, we’re talking about something better. We’re talking about something flourishing,” Peggy Loar, the institution’s interim director and president, told the Washington Post.
The National Gallery’s director, Earl A. “Rusty” Powell III,, told the Washington Post that “a logical marriage” will be sought between the Corcoran’s art holdings, which represent the oldest private collection in Washington, and the National Gallery’s. None of the Corcoran’s 17,000 artworks will be deaccessioned; works not selected by the National Gallery will pass to other museums, with an eye to local institutions.
The Corcoran Museum of Art is best known for its substantial collections of historic American art and 19th century French painting, including numerous works by leading Impressionists. The institution was also at the center of one of the major battles in the culture wars of the 1980s and ’90s when it refused to show an exhibition of work by Robert Mapplethorpe, Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment, because of the homoerotic subject matter and the brewing controversy over Congressional funding of the arts.